On Friday the UFC makes its second visit to the state of New York since the recent legalisation MMA there for UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Abdurakhimov in Albany. This is one of the weakest UFC cards I have seen, especially for one in North America but it does have some bright spots with two intriguing heavyweight contests at the top of the card and a couple of prospects on the prelim card, and it is all live on UFC Fight Pass.
Derrick Lewis made his way to the UFC after becoming Legacy FC champion and he has compiled a 7-2 record in the promotion and is currently on a four fight winning streak. After being stopped quickly by Matt Mitrione and succumbing to a hook kick from Shawn Jordan he has started to look more consistent and fixed some holes in his game. The two most recent wins on this run are Gabriel Gonzaga and Roy Nelson and they have fired him into the rankings, a win here will surely see him matched with a marquee name next to jolt him into the title picture.
Lewis is primarily a boxer and his grappling was a massive problem for him earlier in his career, particularly on bottom. He has made improvements in his grappling, which was shown in his fight with Roy Nelson where he was able to mainly nullify the grappling intentions of Nelson. Another problem for Lewis is his cardio but again it has been steadily improving and the fight with Nelson was the first time that Lewis had won a fight that went the distance. His main asset is his power, if he lands clean then it is the end of the fight for most heavyweights, and his deceptive speed for a man of his size.
Abdurakhimov is a Dagestani fighter who has built up a record of 17-3 with little fanfare. Early in his career he beat a string of the usual suspects you would expect for a heavyweight on the European scene including Jeff Monson, Sokoudjou, Neil Grove and Kenny Garner. He dropped his UFC debut to Tim Johnson but bounced back with two decision victories over Anthony Hamilton and Walt Harris. I think it is quite telling that when fighting the lower end of the UFC heavyweight division, Lewis was able to secure quick stoppages while Abdurakhimov contested close decision.
Abdurakhimov has a background in striking, having been training Sanshou for a very long time but he is a relatively well rounded fighter and you would have to expect him to try and take this fight to the floor considering it is definitely the weakest area of Lewis’ game. In order to do that he will have to get close to Lewis, and that is no easy feat.
The co-main event features another bout between unheralded heavyweights in Francis Ngannou and Anthony Hamilton. Ngannou is a genuinely exciting prospect which is very rare in the heavyweight division. Ngannou is a frightening athlete, he moves quickly and he hits incredibly hard. He stands at 6’4’ and he hits the scales at between 250-260 pounds.
Ngannou signed for the UFC after compiling a record of 5-1, with the loss coming to Zoumana Cisse in his second fight and with no wins of any particular note. In his opening UFC fight with Luis Henrique he showed some of this inexperience and lack of polish early in the fight when he let Henrique control him for long periods against the cage but he improved as the fight went on and took control in the second round before finishing the fight with a vicious uppercut. He made immense strides in his game before his second UFC fight, he came up against the young wrestler Curtis Blaydes who has similar athleticism and looked to be a tricky style match up but Ngannou controlled the fight and kept it standing, forcing a stoppage at the end of the second round. That was the fight that made it clear that Ngannou had a lot of promise. He was rewarded with a fight on FOX on the Holm/Shevchenko card and he made use of the spotlight by stopping Bojan Mihajlovic quickly which earned him a spot in the UFC rankings.
Anthony Hamilton is a good gatekeeper for the heavyweight division, which is proven by his UFC record which follows a pattern of loss, win, loss, win and in case you are wondering, he is due a defeat here if this pattern continues. He will need to engage Ngannou in wrestling exchanges to try and tire out the big man with prolonged clinches and an assault of ground and pound but it won’t be easy. If a wrestler with the athleticism of Curtis Blaydes couldn’t control Ngannou then Hamilton will certainly struggle. He does have the edge in experience though, Ngannou is still quite raw while Hamilton has been around the block a bit more.
The main card is rounded out by two light heavyweight fights, “Beatin’ 25/8” Corey Anderson was beaten by Shogun Rua last time out and will have to get by Sean O Connell, who is on a two fight losing streak, if he wants to get another crack at the top echelon of the division. And Gian Villante will get to fight in his home state of New York for the first time when he takes on short notice replacement Saparbek Safarov. Saforov has built up an 8-0 record in Russia but has yet to take on anyone with the experience and quality of Villante.
On the preliminary portion of the card Justine Kish fights for the first time since January, she has had terrible luck with injuries, as an injury sustained on The Ultimate Fighter kept her out for over a year before that. She only has a record of 5-0 in MMA but she is a former kickboxer and this experience is invaluable. Her opponent Ashley Yoder is a grappler so we have yet another striker v grappler contest on this card.
Another fight to keep an eye on early in the night is Marc Diakiese v Frankie Perez at lightweight. Diakiese is a dynamic striker who may be familiar to MMA fans in Ireland due to his time in BAMMA which included an impressive KO in Dublin. He stopped Lukasz Sajewski in his UFC debut in November and is looking to capitalise on that momentum when he takes on Perez who is coming off a quick stoppage victory over Sam Stout.
Opening proceedings is JJ Aldrich who competed on Season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter and lost to eventual winner Tatiana Suarez. After the show she picked up two wins, with the last one coming only weeks ago at Invicta 20. Aldrich is an energetic striker with a style that is fun to watch but she is still very early in her career and this is a big step for her in Juliana Lima, who is big for the weight class and has been in there with the best, it will be interesting to see how she fares.
Main Card (2 AM GMT – UFC Fight Pass)
Derrick Lewis vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov – Lewis
Anthony Hamilton vs. Francis Ngannou – Ngannou
Corey Anderson vs. Sean O’Connell – Anderson
Gian Villante vs. Saparbek Safarov – Villante
Preliminary Card (22:45 PM GMT – UFC Fight Pass)
Justine Kish vs. Ashley Yoder – Kish
Randy Brown vs. Brian Camozzi – Camozzi
Joe Gigliotti vs. Gerald Meerschaert – Meerschaert
Andrew Sanchez vs. Trevor Smith – Sanchez
Tiago Trator vs. Shane Burgos – Trator
Frankie Perez vs. Marc Diakiese – Diakiese
Keith Berish vs. Ryan Janes – Janes
Juliana Lima vs. JJ Aldrich – Lima
Derrick Lewis KO & Round 1 – 6/4